July 14, 2024

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75 years later, we have just found the largest known specimen of Humboldt. All thanks to a forgotten letter.

75 years later, we have just found the largest known specimen of Humboldt. All thanks to a forgotten letter.

The specimen was found in a mine in Bavaria in the late 1940s and was subsequently forgotten.

When Peruvian geologist Mariano Eduardo de Rivero y Ustarez catalogued them, Humboldttina In 1821 it was named after the German scientist Alexander von Humboldt. It was in this country that a strange discovery was made two centuries later due to its history: a new vein of the mineral was found thanks to a post-war manuscript.

The manuscript was discovered in February 2023. In the process of digitizing its archives, the Bavarian Environment Agency (LfU for its German acronym) I stumbled In a letter written in 1949 by the owner of a mine near Schwandorf, in the Upper Palatinate region of Bavaria.

The letter, sent to the Bavarian Geological Office, reported the discovery of Humboltian specimens in mineral prospecting. According to the writingsThe Bureau had requested these samples from the mine. The problem was that no one had any news of the sample that this forgotten letter referred to.


The puzzle intrigued the LfU team, and it came as no surprise. Humboltine is an extremely rare mineral, made up of iron, carbon, oxygen and water. Yellow in color, it is an extremely rare mineral: Only 30 known sites Worldwide, existing specimens are usually small in size.

The research paid off, but not without effort. Roland Eichhorn, head of the LfU’s geology department, and his team had to deal with around 130,000 objects in the institution’s geological archive.

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The group found the forgotten specimens, correctly named Like humboldtina with a note of its source. It was about to unusually large pieces (Some are the size of a hazelnut, The agency explains) But its yellowish appearance is consistent with that of the Humboltins.

But visual analysis was not enough to confirm the discovery. The team studied the sample using a technique called X-ray diffraction measurementThis is a common tool in chemical analysis that allows us to find out the molecular composition of a mineral or other substance.

This technique proved the discovery: the team encountered a huge sample of the strange metal. According to The German magazine pointed out SpiegelThis discovery doubled the amount of Humboltin ever discovered.

But this amount will not be expanded at the moment. The Schwandorf mine from which the samples were extracted has been closed for some time. And now it is still flooded, making new virtual mining even more difficult.

The samples collected in the post-war period will remain rare in the LfU archives while waiting for new discovery. Perhaps in a mine, perhaps in an abandoned archive.

In Chataka | The Earth is “missing” metal. It’s a mystery we’re getting closer to solving.

Image | Kemner, LfU